by Andrew Garda
If anyone thought the Montclair High School girls soccer team might rest on their laurels after a spectacular 2019 effort, October should disabuse them of that notion.
The Mounties’ 5-0 win over Immaculate Heart Academy (4-3, 4-2 Big North) on Saturday raised their record to 6-0, and 5-0 in the Super Essex Conference, while also marking the third game in a row where they scored five goals.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the maturity we’ve shown,” head coach Ashley Hammond said during a phone call on Monday. “It would be really easy to assume that we would just carry on like last year, and no one has taken that stance.
“They’ve put the work in necessary to make sure it does carry on. Like last year, you know, it’s easy to think it was all just going to happen. And to the girls’ credit, that’s just not been their attitude. Their attitude has been that every game is a new challenge.”
While the entire team played excellent soccer, the three who rose above the crowd this weekend were seniors Claire Manning and Sydney Masur and sophomore Sonia Neighbors.
Manning led the scoring with a hat trick plus two assists, with Masur adding a goal and an assist and Neighbors a goal and two assists.
The 2020 season has been a productive one for Manning, who has scored 10 goals so far, including two hat tricks in the last three games.
“Two hat tricks in a week is pretty impressive, and she scored a good goal against Glen Ridge,” Hammond said of the future Georgetown player. “She’s just banging on form right now. Very, very excited about her form, as her college coach should be.”
Masur has been incredibly productive as well, and if her intensity was noticeably ratcheted up in 2019, Hammond said she’s taken it to another level this year.
“I mean, I know Claire gets all the kudos for her goal scoring and she should, she’s brilliant,” Hammond said. “But let me tell you, Syd Masur is just on a different planet this year as well.”
On Saturday, Immaculate Heart found itself in the unenviable position of choosing which player would hurt them. When they focused on Manning, Hammond knew Masur would pick up the pace.
“Syd was dialed in, there’s no doubt,” he said. “Sydney went 18 to 18 for 80 [minutes], for as long as I kept her out there.”
While Manning and Masur — who will play at Indiana next year — keep doing what they’re doing, Neighbors has been asked to do a few different things.
“She’s been the supplier a lot more than the scorer this year, and she’s done a fantastic job of it,” Hammond said. “Her passing has been spectacular. Her runs have been great. She’s been smart on the field, switching wings when she’s needed to, and overall just been a really big contributor to the attack. But the unknown work she does is that she defends well.”
It’s important for Hammond to keep developing his players with an eye toward the future, even while the season is happening.
“It’s so funny, because I spend a lot of time thinking about lineups for next year, who stays, who goes, where they would go, where they wouldn’t go,” he said. “And do I have opportunities this year to put that lineup in and test it out. Free tests, so to speak, and free positional tests for certain players.”
If Montclair keeps scoring as they have the last three games — they’ve outscored their opponents 15-1 — they may have the time.
There’s still a lot of soccer left, though. MHS met Newark Academy on Wednesday, Oct. 28, with results after press time.
Hammond said a lot of teams are changing how they approach this team.
“We’ve definitely seen a change,” he said. “The coaches around us are very smart people. And I love to coach against good people and smart people. Every coach has made adjustments to us because I think we’re the ones with a target on our back.”
Hammond credited Immaculate Heart for the way they played, and that they came right at the Mounties. Traditionally, Montclair has struggled with IH, but neither side took it for granted that this would be the case this time out.
In the end, it didn’t work out for IH, which may only reinforce teams’ thoughts on what to do with Montclair. Aside from Newark Academy, the Mounties face Mount St. Dominic on the road Oct. 31 and Columbia at home on Nov. 3.
“Columbia is going to sit tight on us. I suspect Mount St. Dominic will sit tight on us,” Hammond said. “Meaning that they’ll just let us come on to them and try to break on us, which has been the pattern for almost all the games. When teams play that pattern, that’s when games can get a little tighter. Glen Ridge sat in deep on us. When teams sit in deep on you like that, it’s just not that easy to break down.”
The problem teams face is how deep Montclair is. You can shadow either Masur or Manning, but the other will hurt you If you do both, then Neighbors could strike. Katie Giordano, Emily Crane, Meg Braley – the list of Mounties who will make a team pay for focusing on the “top” players is long and deep.
Meanwhile, the stingy MHS defense and some excellent goaltending by Molly Brumbach make even one goal by Montclair a tough hill to climb.
Braumbach deserves a lot of credit for the 21:2 goal differential, but the backline should also get accolades. Baldwin Gittens, Kiera Hessler and Shelby Duffy are all exceptional players and with Emma Belsky, they anchor a tenacious defense.
Of course, the entire team will play defense. It’s not just Neighbors whose work in the Mounties end sometimes gets overlooked – forwards and midfielders always take part in the defensive effort.
Montclair has their six regular season games left, and then the state will hold the sectional tournament, which could be another four games.
Last year MHS lost just one game. This year, the aim is to wipe that one “L” away and take the sectional title home.
So far, they look like they have the talent and drive to do it.